An Interview with H. Melt – Chicago Review of Books


Reading H. Melt’s poetry collection, There Are Trans People Here is like walking through a city you love (sometimes begrudgingly) and being able to see its past, present, and future all at once. Today there might be transphobic landlords, but one day there will be a Trans House. Today there might be doctors and medical institutions that don’t provide meaningful care, but right now there are trans and queer people loving on each other. You also cannot read this book without reflecting on how much care and support H. Melt has provided for countless queer and trans people and poets (myself included) in Chicago and beyond. This collection is more than a collection of poems, it is a manifesto of how to survive and imagine a more just future that we are already building.

I had the pleasure of interviewing H. Melt over the phone, and we talked about multiple types of ancestry, the care inherent in protests, and trans joy.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Levi Todd

Hello hello! How are you? What’s been on your mind lately?

H. Melt

Well, it is the holiday season, or what I feel like are the most capitalistic holidays, so I feel very unexcited about that. But it does mean that Valentine’s Day is a little bit closer, which is my favorite day of the year.

Levi Todd

Yes, I definitely know what you mean about this time of year. What are the ways you like to celebrate Valentine’s Day for yourself?

H. Melt

I see it as a celebration of community and for reminding friends and chosen family that I care for them, and that the day is not just a celebration of romantic or sexual love. It can be much more expansive and about reminding your people that you love them, and sending them fun little cards, and celebrating all that is glittery and heart-shaped.

Levi Todd

I love that, thinking of it as a day celebrating care.

H. Melt

Yeah. And that is, the heart of my book, too. 

Levi Todd

Most definitely. That’s a good transition, because in the preface to the book, you share a quote from Hil Malatino’s Trans Care that says “Care is inherently political.” I know you wrote the bulk of this manuscript pre-pandemic, and I’m curious if there are new ways you’re thinking of care in the context of a pandemic. 

H. Melt

I’ve been seeing the failures of traditional systems of care throughout the pandemic. When care is related to profit, and when it is part of institutions that really don’t care if you live or die, we see masses of people struggling and also losing their lives. We’ve seen the medical industrial complex in the U.S. collapse and become easily overwhelmed, especially when it’s not caring for its own workers. So I learned a lot about how care can help people survive outside of these really extractive systems, when it’s more rooted in community and friendship. 

Levi Todd

That makes me think of the rise of mutual aid projects last summer. Especially ones led by queer and trans people like through Brave Space Alliance, how they really stepped in to care for others, specifically Black and Brown trans people in a way that was (and is) being completely dropped by the government.

H. Melt

I think that protest can also be a form of care. I think of protests I went to last year during the George Floyd uprisings. One of the main things we were told not to do in terms of COVID was gather in big groups. But these protests, there was so much care being taken, like strangers were masked and pumping hand sanitizer, treating injuries, showing up at jails as support. I saw so much care in the face of violence, particularly from the police, who are traditionally thought of as protecting people. But in reality we know they are a huge perpetrator of harm, and getting to see first-hand all the ways in which people had to care for their bodies and for each other…it was just another reminder of how care really cannot come from these systems of violence. 

Levi Todd

I think it’s interesting that you point out the care inherent in protests last summer and those that continue. There’s a spirit of rebellion woven throughout this collection. Like in “The Riots Must Continue”, where you say “I walk a block to Dewey’s Diner / to visit my trancestors / who were denied service / & arrested here in 1965 / my nana lived so close / she could’ve heard the protests.” I think this poem is interesting because you’re bringing both your trancestors and biological ancestors into the same space.

H. Melt

One of my inheritances from both my family of origin and my lineage of queer and trans ancestors is this notion of resistance. There are moments in history when my family have resisted, and others where they haven’t. What was interesting to me in writing those poems was re-writing some of my relationships to my own family. Thinking about my relationship with my grandmother, my nana, in “The Riots Must Continue”, I’m imagining a grandmother who would have been queer and trans affirming, or maybe would have been supportive of the protest down the street. I don’t know if she ate at that diner, I don’t know if she would have literally looked down on the people who were sitting in at Dewey’s. I don’t know if that moment in history was part of the root of her transphobia. I think the poem was a form of healing my relationship to my family, and particularly to members of my family who are not supportive of queer and trans folks in the world. To think about different possibilities than what I have actually experienced from them.

Even within the lives of straight and cis family members, there are also moments in their lives that could be read as moments of gender transgression, moments of queer romance, moments of chosen family. I think that has been important to me to recognize, even if they don’t understand it in the same way. 

Levi Todd

That makes me think of your poem “On My Way to Liberation” with your Pa Howie, where you share, “when the nazis / came for his family / in Kovno, Lithuania / my grandfather / dressed like a girl / to stay close to his / mother & sisters”. That moment of gender transgression was both a product of fear, but also a form of survival. You also note that when he arrived in the U.S. he changed his name from Michelson to Melton, and you’ve also changed your name “on [your] way to liberation”.

H. Melt

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Part of the tension is many of those changes for him were not by choice, and were forced or results of assimilation. Whereas for me, I have much more agency or freedom to change. Those are very different experiences. I still feel like there is a connection there and drawing those sorts of connections have drawn me closer to my own family. 

Levi Todd

Drawing on this theme of lineage, there’s a lot of “after” poems, where you take poems from other poets and write new poems that are inspired by their specific lines. The one that really sticks out to me is “Dysphoria Is Not My Name”, which is after Ross Gay’s “Sorrow Is Not My Name”, which is after Gwendolyn Brooks’ “To The Young Who Want to Die”. I think poems like that serve as poetic archives of lineage. 

H. Melt

The writers in my life are also a part of my chosen family, without a doubt. I think that there isn’t really a separation for me between queer and trans lineages, poetry lineages, my familial lineages. All of these communities of people have deeply shaped who I am and how I live my life. The care that I receive and also that I give is often both to and from poets and writers and artists and queer and trans folks here in Chicago. It’s just a beautiful form of reciprocity and it brings me a lot of joy and comfort to be in conversation with people not just on the page, but also in my personal life. Off the page, these are the people that I turn to and that I struggle with and that I fight with, and the people who provide many different forms of care. 

Levi Todd

On that note, this collection really uplifts and centers trans joy and pleasure. What is your relationship with pleasure, joy, and delight especially as we are entering shorter and darker days for the winter?

H. Melt

During the pandemic, I’ve been tapping into a lot of childhood joys. For example, I already sent a lot of mail and cards and packages, but during the pandemic I especially tapped into my love of stickers and filling the full outsides of packages—

Levi Todd

—you really do, having received some of these letters [laughs].

H. Melt

Yeah! With stickers, ones that are silly or sparkly, but also a lot that are political and many that are made by queer and trans makers. There was a time when literally sending any sort of queer material through the mail could get you arrested. It brings me a little bit of joy to be able to decorate the outside of a package with messages of support and love, and abolition. I was filling out some holiday cards for Black & Pink, for folks who are on the inside of prisons and jails. I’ve just been figuring out given the restrictions and limitations placed on us during this time, what are ways that I still can connect with people and send them a message of support. That gives me a lot, a lot of pleasure and joy.


POETRY
There Are Trans People Here
By H. Melt
Haymarket Books
Published November 16, 2021




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